The other day, a customer of a South End restaurant demanded a gift certificate when he forgot his doggie bag of leftovers. This is the type of behavior that drives Patrick Maguire, author of the popular blog “I’m Your Server Not Your Servant,” insane. Maguire, who has worked too many service jobs to count, from bartender to landscaper to cemetery worker, was named the author of Boston’s Best Blog in Boston Magazine’s Reader’s Choice Awards last month.
He is currently working on a book — you can read it in progress on his blog — about the bullshit endured by service workers thanks to holier-than-thou customers who believe in the sacred “customer is always right” mentality. Maguire could have easily written a memoir about his various experiences, giving us perspective into a well-seasoned worker’s gripes, but instead he chose to create something to unite all service workers in expressing what they have gone through, with the goal of making us all aware that they are our servers, not our servants.
BLAST: You’ve had lots of service jobs. Which one was the most difficult?
PATRICK MAGUIRE: I loved bartending, but it was definitely one of the most difficult jobs I’ve had. Dealing with douchebags was a common occurrence, especially after they’ve had a few beverages. Customers have almost as much to do with the success of the customer-server human interaction as the server does, but unfortunately, a lot of people are clueless when it comes to common courtesy and mutual respect. I put a list together of 64 Suggestions for Bar Customers. A lot of people need to read it.
BLAST: What service job do you think — perhaps from your own experience or from your research — is the most under-appreciated?
PM: Support positions, such as prep cook, dish washer, nursing assistant, secretary, paralegal, food runner, busser, and bar-back, to name a few. They are the unsung heroes, and are subject to some of the harshest behavior that human beings are capable of. A lot of customers treat support personnel in a condescending, elitist fashion because they think that workers are “beneath” them. It’s appalling.
BLAST: Tell us about a horrible experience you’ve had with a customer, one that really sticks out in your mind. How did you handle it? How should horrible situations be handled?
PM: Most of the horrible experiences I’ve had of late are with fellow customers in the supermarket, sandwich shop, at Fenway, restaurants, the doctor’s office, the library, the T, in fact, everywhere human beings share public space. You pick and choose your battles, but I’ve become more vigilant about pushing back and speaking up. We need to look out for each other and not tolerate abuse when we hear it or see it. I have a chapter in my book called, Confront Without Being Confrontational that will offer suggestions on pushing back and raising awareness.
BLAST: In your introduction, you say, “The 5 percent factor is steadily growing, and…civility and common decency are declining.” Why do you think that is?
PM: The 5 percent factor that I referred to was my perception of the number of impossible customers who are also miserable, awful people with their families, co-workers and everyone they encounter.
I was in a diner a few weeks ago and I watched and listened to a waitress offer a woman a coffee refill. The woman clearly heard her but said nothing. The waitress responded with, “Okay, the silent treatment.” When the customer was out of earshot, I said, “What’s up with her?” The waitress replied, “Some people struggle with kindness. At least I don’t have to go home with them.” Touché. I always wonder what it’s like living and working with those bastards.
There are several reasons for the decline of civility and common decency: poor parenting, lack of role models, poor education, narcissism, entitlement, lack of awareness, and ignorance, to name a few. We also live in an instant gratification society where we expect everything now.
BLAST: Do you think that customers feel they have a sense of power over their servers? Is there a disconnect for customers, where they don’t see the server as a person?
PM: Some customers do have a sense of power over their servers. Many of them are making up for their own lack of self-esteem. They have an “I pay you; I own you” mentality, and love to degrade and torture workers and fellow human beings. It’s a very twisted, sick mindset and existence.
A lot of customers forget or don’t care that they are dealing with fellow human beings. Their lack of empathy and awareness is frightening.
BLAST: What do you hope readers get out of your blog and your future book? Why did you feel compelled to write it?
PM: I was driven to write the book because I was sick and tired of witnessing the abuse of service industry workers from a growing population of arrogant, entitled, demeaning customers. It’s very disturbing to witness what a lot of people think is okay. I had to speak up and do something about it. Everyone wants to point the finger at bad customer service, and no one is advocating for workers and shining the spotlight on bad customers. The book will be a voice for service industry workers who can’t say what they would like to for fear of retribution.
In addition to advocating for servers, the heart and soul of the book will be in the chapter, “Human-to-Human Service.” As I immersed myself in writing the book, I soon realized that beyond the customer-server relationship, my mission is really to promote civility, common courtesy and compassion in all walks of life. That explains the book’s subtitle, “A Case for Human-to-Human Service and Civility,” which is about co-existing, communicating with and responding to fellow human beings. I want to engage readers in a dialogue and raise awareness about mutual respect and common courtesy.